The Real Story on the Puerto Rico Status Vote
Denial of statehood or nationhood after WWII was coupled with FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society social engineering. The “Commonwealth” experiment was progress overtaken by developmental arrest and now bankruptcy for Puerto Rico.
Failure to treat U.S. citizens in the last large U.S. territory equally with citizens in the 32 territories that became states has created failed client state syndrome. Historically, statehood or nationhood are the only viable recovery models.
Now the faction in Congress opposing statehood for Puerto Rico perversely mimics the segregationist Dixiecrat faction that stridently opposed the admission of Hawaii and Alaska in 1950’s.
For example, eight members of the U.S. Senate ignored the federal plebiscite law, demanded U.S. Department of Justice apply extra-legal criteria and deny ballot certification, and pressured USDOJ to “move the goal post” three weeks before vote.
The senators in question: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
The Department of Justice imposed conditions on ballot certification which were expected to force a delay, or to prevent majority rule by adding options to divide vote.
The territorial government demonstrated superior statesmanship and diplomatic agility by expediting amendment of ballot to comply with the conditions, enabling the vote to go forward on June 11 as scheduled.
Anti-statehood political parties facing defeat took their cue from the anti-statehood faction, using federally imposed ballot revisions as a pretext for boycotting the plebiscite. Their goal was to lower voter turnout for the special election.
Voter turnout for special elections is typically much lower than general elections, but the low turnout is now being cited by anti-statehood groups to make an anti-democratic claim that 97% voter approval was a “defeat” for statehood.
Historical case studies show that the June 11 vote for statehood –97% of the vote — was a more decisive democratic mandate than Congress consistently relied on to admit the 32 territories that became states.
At this point, a number of groups which do not otherwise share much common ground have formed an alliance to deny equal citizenship rights to 3.3 million fellow citizens after 118 years of U.S. rule.
Do they know that U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico serve in the U.S. military at a higher per capita rate than residents of the 50 states, and that Puerto Rico is more integrated in union than any territory that became a state in the past?
Do they know that President Reagan supported statehood as soon as a majority voted for it, and that Reagan once wrote: “As a ‘ commonwealth’ Puerto Rico is neither a state nor independent, and therefore has a historically unnatural status.”?
End Congressional Illiteracy on Statehood for Puerto Rico
In 1795, just 8% of the adult population in the territory of Tennessee voted for statehood, and Tennessee became a state the next year.
In 1812, the British invaded Washington and burned out the White House. That didn’t stop Congress from granting statehood and federal voting rights to the French and Spanish speaking citizens in the economically stressed territory of Louisiana.
The territory of Wisconsin voted against statehood three times, and in one vote only 22% voted for admission to the union, but Congress accepted the adoption of a local constitution as sufficient for admission.
Colorado voted one time and a majority rejected statehood, but the territorial government petitioned for statehood and won admission to the union.
Minnesota gave Congress a deadline to grant admission as a state or trigger a declaration of independence for the territory. Vermont, Kentucky and Texas all flirted with independence and/or alliance with Britain if denied statehood.
The territory of Arizona joined the confederacy during the Civil War. Tuscon was occupied by the Union Army to restore the U.S. Constitution. Arizona’s path to statehood started with a majority vote for statehood with a 7% turnout.
Alaska’s first majority vote of statehood was in an election with 21% participation. Final approval before statehood was 83% for Alaska, lower than Puerto Rico’s majority.
Hawaii began its march to statehood with 35% voter turnout, and in the final vote in 1959 17% of voters in the general election left the statehood question on the ballot blank. No one paid any attention to arguments that blank ballots should be counted as votes against statehood. Hawaii’s final approval before statehood was 94%, lower than Puerto Rico’s majority.
In 1983, the U.S. used a two-tier ballot in a vote on approval of a “free association” treaty with Pacific islands under federal administration pursuant to a United Nations trusteeship. Over 70% of voters who cast a ballot on free association left the second question on U.S. territorial status blank.
President Reagan, Congress, the federal courts and the U.N. Security Council rejected opposition to the treaty arguing the blank ballots be counted against the vote favoring free association.
Demand Good Faith Truth-Telling: 2017 and 2012 Statehood Votes
Inconclusive Puerto Rico status votes in 1967, 1993 in 1998 were ignored by Congress. Now in 2017 a majority of voters in Puerto Rico have approved statehood. With voter turnout in a special election expected to be confirmed at more than 30%, statehood won by 97%.
This 2017 pro-statehood vote confirms a 2012 vote with a 78% turnout in which voting on a first ballot question produced a majority to end the current territorial status known as “commonwealth.” The second ballot question in the 2012 vote a produced a 61% vote for statehood over independence with or without a “free association” treaty.
That 2012 two-tier ballot was a format President Regan personally approved, and it was embraced by the U.N. mission that observed Pacific island free association treaty votes in 1983. In the 2012 vote it reliably produced the first majority vote for any new and fully democratic non-territorial political status in 118 years of U.S. rule in Puerto Rico.
Yet, with brazenly anti-democratic tactics, anti-statehood Commonwealth Party lobbyists found anti-statehood allies in Congress to attack the clearly democratic choice of voters. The anti-statehood lobbyists argued that ballots cast in the 2012 general election on which the political status questions were left blank should be counted against statehood.
In 2017 the same special interest surrogates claim the 97% vote for statehood was actually instead a “defeat” for statehood. The warped logic of this claim is that the difference between the 2012 voter turnout and the 2017 voter turnout (following five years of record outmigration) should be counted against the 97% vote for statehood.
Call It As We See It
It is time for patriotic citizens nationwide who believe in the American idea of equality and liberty under the U.S. flag to confront the hypocrisy, bias and bigotry of the anti-statehood factions in Puerto Rico and its allies in the U.S. Congress.
It must not go unnoticed that the domestic U.S. territorial “autonomy” movement began as a tactic to spread slavery from the southern states to territories seeking the economic advantages of involuntary servitude. That led to breakdown of the Missouri Compromise and ultimately to secession of states and territories that joined the confederacy in rebellion against the U.S. Constitution. That pernicious logic manifests itself in the autonomous confederacy proposed by the Commonwealth Party in Puerto Rico today, seeking power to govern island residents with U.S. national citizenship but not equal rights of full national and state citizenship.
The autonomous confederacy platform of the Commonwealth Party seeks to deny equal rights and duties of U.S. citizenship that exist only for citizens in a state, including federal voting rights. The anti-statehood Commonwealth Party is supported in Congress by a faction that agrees that the people of Puerto Rico should be denied equal voting rights that come with statehood, in particular representation in Congress. More than a few in Congress who oppose statehood hail from the same states that once practiced slavery, and later continued segregation even in the modern post-WWII era.
The faction in Congress that opposes statehood for Puerto Rico today is demographically akin to the faction in Congress that opposed statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. That proved to have racial as well as political and economic motivations.
President Eisenhower confronted these same dynamics in 1959 as he managed the admission process for the last two large territories admitted to statehood. Every President since has supported statehood or nationhood if chosen by the voters.